Cruickshank Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Cruickshank Surname Meaning

Cruickshank – with its variants Cruikshank and Cruikshanks – is a Scottish surname found in the northeast of the country.  The most likely origin of the name is locational – that it comes from the river Cruick in Kincardineshire where cruick means a hook or bend in the river and shank means a point of a hill. 

Alternatively, some have suggested that Cruickshank is a nickname for a man with a crooked leg or legs.  Cruick here again means hook or bend and shank a leg-bone.

Cruickshank Surname Resources on The Internet

Cruickshank and Cruikshank Surname Ancestry

  • from Scotland (East Coast)
  • to England, America and Canada

ScotlandEarly mentions of the name were:

  • Chistin Crukschank in the foundation charter of Urchany chapel (in present-day Ross and Cromarty) in 1334
  • and Cristinus Cruksank who was admitted as a burgess in Aberdeen in 1408.

Cruickshank had many variant spellings.  The spelling began to standardize in the early 1600’s.  Aberdeen had the largest numbers then.  But the name started to spread southwards towards Edinburgh later in the century.

Aberdeenshire.  John Cruickshank was a tenant at Achnahandet in 1671.  Cruickshanks started to appear in increasing numbers at Forgue and Drumblade in the 1700’s.William Cruickshank, born there in 1776, made his home at Rothiemay across the border in Morayshire.

George Cruickshank married Jean Stewart at Huntly in 1790.  Another George Cruickshank married Anne Allen at Longside in 1815.  Both had descendants who emigrated to Canada.

Edinburgh.  Andrew Crookshanks was an Edinburgh customs inspector who was dispossessed of his position for his role in the Jacobite uprising in 1745. His youngest son Isaac left Edinburgh to seek his fortune in London.

William S. Cruikshank, born in Banffshire in 1856, was the man who built the King’s Theatre in Edinburgh in 1906. Cruikshanks continued to run his theatrical firm in Edinburgh until 2006.

England.   Isaac Cruikshank, who arrived in London in 1783, had within ten years established himself as one of the leading caricaturists and book illustrators of his day.

His two sons, Robert and George, followed in his footsteps. George became even more famous.  His book illustrations for his friend Charles Dickens and other authors reached an international audience.  Upon George’s death in 1878, it was discovered that he had fathered eleven illegitimate children with a mistress named Adelaide Attree, his former servant.

America.  There were Scots Irish Cruikshanks who came to America.

One was Andrew Cruikshank who came to Pennsylvania and fought under Captain Samuel Miller in the Revolutionary War.  When Miller was killed by Indians in 1778, Andrew married Miller’s widow. He later became a wagon-master between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

Another was John J. Cruikshank, born in Dublin, who also came to Pennsylvania, in his case in 1826.  He headed west in the 1840’s and started a lumber business in Hannibal, Missouri in 1856.  His son John became a wealthy lumber baron and built himself Rockcliffe Mansion in Hannibal.

And yet another Pennsylvania arrival, this time in 1831 from Scotland, was Alexander Cruickshank a stonemason.   He settled in Allegheny. He soon became a grocer there and his family turned their attention to producing jams and jellies. The Cruickshank Brothers Co. was successful and continued in operation until 1956.

George P. Cruickshank meanwhile had moved to Autuauga county, Alabama in 1822.  He was killed there eight years later.  His son Marcus was an Alabama politician during the Civil War, his grandson George the newspaper editor of the Birmingham Chronicle.

Canada.  Robert Cruickshank came to Montreal from Aberdeen around the year 1773.  He established himself as a silversmith and merchant in the town.

Among later Cruickshanks who came to Canada were:

  • James and Elizabeth Cruickshank from Cromdale in Aberdeenshire who emigrated to Musquodoboit, Nova Scotia around the year 1803.  Their descendants later settled in Minnesota. 
  • Alexander and Elizabeth Cruickshank from Huntly who came in the late 1830’s and made their home in Gatineau, Quebec. Other family members arrived in the 1850’s, settling in Ontario.  James Cruickshank founded the Cruickshank Carriage Works in Weston.  His brother George made his home in Heathcote, also starting a carriage works.  
  • Robert Cruickshank from Longside meanwhile came out to Saskatchewan sometime in the 1890’s.  He was recorded as a ranch owner in the Moose Jaw region in the 1901 census.

Cruickshank Surname Miscellany

Origin of the Cruickshank Name.  George F. Black in his 1946 work The Surnames of Scotland commented as follows:

“With the possible exception of the first record of the name, which may point to a nickname, I do not think that this surname has any connection with bow-leggedness or ‘crooked shanks.’

The earliest spellings of the name, with the one exception noted, are always in the singular.  The two counties with which the name is most intimately connected are Kincardine and Aberdeen.  In the former we have the river Cruick rising in the parish of Fearn and joining th North Esk near the kirk of Stracathro.  The surname may thus quite well be of local origin – the shank on the Cruick or Cruick-shank.  An early record was John Crokeshanks, burgess of Haddington, who rendered homage in 1296.”

Cruickshank and Variants.  The Cruickshank spelling started to standardize in Scotland in the early 1600’s.  But there were still many regional variations.  The list following shows these variations and when and where they first appeared.

Surname When Where
Cruikshank Early 1600’s Aberdeen mostly
Cruickshank Mid 1600’s Aberdeen mostly
Cruikshanks Mid 1600’s Midlothian mostly
Crookshank Mid 1600’s Edinburgh mostly
Crookshanks Late 1600’s Midlothian, East Lothian and Fife
Cruickshanks Early

William Cruickshank in Rothiemay.  In 1841 the Lossat was the home of the Cruickshanks.  William Cruickshank had been born in Forgue, just over the parish boundary in Aberdeenshire, around 1776.  Living there also was his wife, Margaret (nee Spence) and daughter Jane, age 35 years, both of whom had been born in Forgue as well.  Jane said she was Jane Cruickshank.  Possibly faced with “officialdom,” she would forget to give her married name. Jane’s husband, John Reid, was a farm bailiff.

William and Margaret’s other children – James (born in 1798), George (born in 1804) and Helen (born in 1820) – had all left home.  The couple was still in the same house in 1851.  But sadly by 1856 Margaret had died in Rothiemay and William Cruickshank was a widower.

The Cruikshank Theatrical Family of Edinburgh.  William Stewart Cruikshank was the builder whose firm constructed the King’s Theatre. The owners had experienced financial troubles during construction and the rights were transferred to the King’s Theatre Company which had been formed by Cruikshank. It opened in 1906.

His son Stewart Cruikshank became the managing director who in 1928 merged the theatre with Howard & Wyndham the theatrical empire.  He became the Managing Director of the company.  He introduced The Half Past Eight Show in the 1930’s during the summer when usually theatres were closed. After a failed start it became extremely popular.  In 1949, at the age of 72, he was killed by a motorcycle near Ravelston.

The last Cruikshank family director of Howard & Wyndham was Elyot Beaumont who was buried in the family plot in 2006.

George P. Cruickshank Shot Dead.  George Patterson Cruickshank from Scotland settled in Autuauga county, Alabama, in 1822.  The next year he married Lovedy Campbell McNeil, the daughter of Lachlan McNeil an early settler in the county.

George was a tailor by trade.  He was killed by one of his patrons in 1830.  This patron disliked having bills presented to him and made the remark that he would kill anyone who would do this.  George, not aware of this feeling, handed him a bill for tailoring one day when at the court house. The customer then pulled out his pistol and killed George.

Rockcliffe Mansion in Hannibal, Missouri.  John J. Cruikshank had grown rich as a lumber baron.  Some of this went after a nasty divorce, a scandal which rocked the little town of Hannibal.  Two years later he re-married, this time to Annie Louise Hart who was twenty-seven years his junior.  It was said that Miss Hart had actually been engaged to Cruikshank’s son, but his father had threatened him with disinheritance.

He and his new wife had to live in some style.   In 1898 and now retired, John began work on Rockcliffe Mansion where he dreamt of living out his days. Rockcliffe became the largest house in Hannibal and was considered by many to be the finest residential structure in the Midwest.  Perhaps part of Cruikshank’s reasoning behind building such a house was to regain his place in Hannibal society.

A celebration at the opening of the house certainly went a long ways towards this, as Cruikshank hired the Empire Orchestra to play for more than 700 guests.

Later John Cruikshank began to take long walks at night to tend to his affairs, business or otherwise.  Rumor had it that he was still carousing, even in his later years.  Perhaps things weren’t going so well in the family.  When he departed the house for his nightly rambles, he would take the servant’s stairs, which was next to Mrs. Cruikshank’s chambers, so she would know he was gone by the slamming of the door.

He died in bed in 1924.  Much to everyone’s surprise, his wife essentially walked out the door of Rockcliffe Mansion and moved next door to live with her daughter, according to legend, never to return to the house again.

The house remained unoccupied for forty three years.  It was saved from demolition in 1967 and restored. The ghost of John J. Cruikshank is still said to haunt the building.

Cruickshank Names

  • Isaac Cruikshank, born in Scotland, was an 18th century caricaturist who did most of his work in London. 
  • George Cruikshank, his son, was perhaps even more famous as a caricaturist and book illustrator.  His book illustrations for Dickens and other writers reached an international audience. 
  • John Cruikshank was a 19th century American lumber baron whose operations were based in Hannibal, Missouri. 
  • Helen Cruickshank was a Scottish suffragette, poet, and focal point of the Scottish Renaissance in the early/mid 20th century.

Cruickshank Numbers Today

  • 7,000 in the UK (most numerous in Aberdeenshire)
  • 2,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 6,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Cruickshank and Like Surnames 

These surnames originated from the northern part of Scotland, either the northeast of the country, the Scottish Highlands, or in one case (the surname Linklater) the Orkney isles north of Scotland.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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